Juliana’s neighborhood meeting calls for working together
At the 7th District neighborhood meeting held last night at the Boys and Girls Club, residents spoke up about the problems they have been dealing with that just never seem to get fixed. About fifty people were in attendance, along with a contingent of Kenosha police officers. Present were chief of police John Morrissey, crime prevention officers, Jeff Wamboldt and Ron Francis, officers from the gang unit and drug enforcement unit, a lieutenant, and a public information officer. City representatives included city attorney, Ed Antaramian, four Neighborhood Services and Inspections representatives, and city development director, Jeff LaBahn. Only four alderpersons were present, even though all were invited. Those present were Patrick Juliana, Jesse Downing, Steve Bostrom, and Jan Michalski. What the audience heard over and over again is that “we must work together” to take back our neighborhoods, and “keep on calling.” Morrissey said, “Call, and call, and call.”
Residents complained about a whole range of persistent problems: noisy neighbors and loud parties, annoying car stereos with the bass turned up, tall weeds, junk cars in back yards, blight, bad language, drug deals going down right in front of homes, gangs and gang wanna-be’s, gambling, selling clothes out of trunks of cars, dogfighting, etc. The list goes on and on.
Some residents also complained about the kind of service they received when calling into Dispatch. “Too many questions are asked,” residents said repeatedly. “By the time the squad arrives, the drug deal is all over with.” Wamboldt explained that this is part of their training. They are gathering information to protect the safety of the reporting officer. However, if a citizen is receiving rude or indifferent service, then the caller should request to speak to the shift supervisor. Chief of Police John Morrissey informed the group that the dispatchers are contract employees, and he assured everyone that the supervisor of that group would be informed of these issues the very next day. With a new director coming in, possibly some changes could be made. Plus, all calls to Dispatch are taped. If necessary, the tapes can be reviewed. Also, if a citizen is fearful of retaliation as a result of reporting a problem to the police, they can call Crimestoppers. Juliana also offered, “Just call me. I’ll call it in for you.”
Four officers from the gang unit talked about their surveillance efforts and the length of time it takes in order to investigate reported drug crimes. “It’s kind of a crap shoot that we will actually see a drug deal happening and be able to make an arrest. We will watch two or three houses a day, but if there is no suspicious activity that we observe, we can’t do anything.”
The city attorney spoke to the audience as well. “There are 17,000 cases a year that come through our courts. We have four attorneys in our office to handle all of these cases,” Antaramian said. “Everyone is subject to a personnel crunch. We have all of these cases to take care of, plus all of the other city’s legal work, like contracts, etc. Things take time.”
The issue of landlord problems came up repeatedly. Even though there are mostly good, responsible, landlords (several of whom were in the audience) who belong to the Landlord Association, the few who are absentee and/or irresponsible, spoil the reputation of all. Juliana stated that, “back in the 80′s, the ratio of owned to rented homes was 49/51. As home ownership has decreased, the crime rate has increased. As the number of owner-occupied homes has decreased, the non-owner-occupied homes have increased. There are currently nine other districts that are below the 50% level.” One lady suggested publishing the names of the property owners in the paper whenever there is a disturbance reported. She felt it might help to “shame them.” Another option discussed was that the crime prevention officers offer an eight-hour class for landlords, called the “Crime-Free Multi-Housing Program.” One hundred and twenty people have taken the class thus far. Contact Wamboldt or Francis if you’re interested in attending.
LaBahn addressed the group. “The homes in Kenosha are required to be owner-occupied. We are trying to provide better housing and get rid of blight. There will be one more round of homes (six homes) built in the Columbus area. This will be the last of the new single-family homes for the foreseeable future.”
Foreclosures were another topic brought up on more than one occasion. Martha, one of the city inspectors, gave the following information. “NSI can only get involved if there are complaints brought forward. If a home is vacant, open and accessible, we can order it secured. We don’t board up windows unless they’re broken on the first floor. Boarding up a house makes it look vacant. If we don’t board it up, it looks more normal. We have a number of cases that we check monthly. When a bank issues a judgment, there is a redemption period, usually six months for an owner-occupied property. During this time, the house is in limbo; no one is responsible for it. Here is where the city steps up in securing the house, cutting the grass, and shovelling the snow. A special assessment is charged to the property for these services. Then, it takes a month to six weeks to set up a sheriff’s sale. An independent party can purchase the property, or it goes back to the bank. Re-inspection fees are tacked onto the property’s real estate bill, which makes it more difficult for the property to sell.” Issues of garbage or debris outside of homes need to be reported to the Kenosha County Health Department.
The chief and NSI inspectors urged citizens to keep calling. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Don’t be shy in calling.” A one-page Kenosha Police Department citizen contact telephone numbers list was copied and distributed. This list is attached here for your convenience: KPD Citizen Contact Telephone Numbers. Please keep it handy in case you need to make a call.
One lady spoke of a card system which was in place years ago. The police department kept cards on file which gave the property owner’s authorization for the police to go in if there was a problem at their property. The police chief didn’t recall anything like that in his twenty years on the force.
Wamboldt and Francis also urged citizens to form neighborhood watch groups. Wamboldt asked how many in the group belonged to neighborhood watch. Only a few raised their hands. He said, “I encourage all of you to belong to a neighborhood watch group. There is strength in numbers. If your area is not conducive to forming a neighborhood watch group, then just call all the time.” Their e-mail address is: [email protected] if you’d like to e-mail them instead.
Wamboldt also mentioned the “broken window” theory. “If small problems are taken care, they don’t blossom into bigger ones. Imagine a tall building with lots of windows. Which one is the hardest to break? The first one. Once one is broken, it makes it easier to break another, and another, and another. Which one is the easiest to break? The last one. All the other ones are already broken.”
Francis encouraged the citizens to call Wamboldt and himself if they didn’t know who else to call. “We handle all kinds of problems. My colleagues behind me will probably cringe when I say this, but we are not always concerned with writing tickets or making arrests. Yes, the ultimate goal is an arrest and prosecution. But, we are a little different than the rest of the police department.”
Francis also mentioned a new piece of legislation which is just now starting to be worked on at the state level. ”It is a ‘Crime-Free Multi-Housing Lease Addendum.’ It is a tool which would become a component of a lease. If there are problems with tenants in one of three areas: gangs, drugs, or prostitution, this addendum would give the landlord the right to evict a tenant after a five-day “right to cure” was provided.” Since this is just in the beginning stages, Francis will keep the group informed as to its progress.
Morrissey urged property owners to start using the Crimestoppers software, which is available on the Kenosha Police Department’s website, to monitor crimes in your property’s vicinity. “This is a good tool to monitor the goings-on in your neighborhood,” he said. The software is available on the Kenosha Police Department’s website, Kenoshapolice.com. Instructions are available on the website.
How can we stop these problems? “If neighbors get together, form neighborhood watch groups, look out for each other, and continue making the calls to the police department, it would go a long way in improving things. We want to get these problems out of our community altogether, not just push them to another area of the city.”
Juliana asked the group if another meeting was desired, and there were affirmative responses. Check back for more information on the date for the next meeting.